Author: Alice and the Rabbit Hole

Confessions of a Dark Chocolate Snob

How to pick the REALLY good stuff:

IMG_4124For years I have been seeking out the very best in dark chocolate. What qualifies as “best” for me means that the stuff I buy is minimally-processed, containing very few ingredients. I set the bar high. If I see soy lecithin on the ingredients list, I keep on walking. Not that there’s anything bad about soy lecithin, per se (an emulsifier that is present in most chocolate bars); it’s just an indicator that the chocolate is more processed, meaning less antioxidants. Minimally-processed organic dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao is considered a superfood (lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, protecting cells from free radicals) and the naturally occurring fat may also be beneficial to the heart.

In San Francisco there are so many varieties of the best dark chocolate available, some made right here in the city. You can go to the Ferry Building on any given day, and drop $9 on a gourmet bar, easy. Or even find sweet and steeply-priced choices at the grocery store. I don’t mind splurging now and then, but luckily for me there are also plenty of cheaper varieties to support my habit.

Whole Foods has a good bar for around $3. I noticed Trader Joe’s finally started carrying an organic 73% bar of their own brand. Here’s another affordable one that I like: Equal Exchange (I’m halfway through this bar pictured at right). Notice the front says “single origin” and “small farmer grown” – they also offer a wealth of source information on the inside of the label.Image 4

I can savor a good bar for a week – I’m usually content with one or two small squares (sometimes paired with red wine for a truly decadent dessert). In addition to this treat, I have started sprinkling a spoonful of raw cacao nibs on my morning granola – now here’s the REALLY good stuff: pure raw organic cacao. In reading the label, I was surprised by how much dietary fiber you get in one ounce: 36% daily value. It is also rich in iron and magnesium. Eating raw means 20 times the antioxidants of blueberries. Yes, pure cacao is bitter and hard, but when paired with something sweet it gives the perfect hint of chocolate flavor to whatever you are eating. And I like the crunch!

Image 5To sum up, the raw stuff is the best health-wise, though it may not be easy to find a true raw chocolate bar on the shelves of your local store. Cacao nibs, however, are readily available. The bars I’ve mentioned above are made from cacao beans that are roasted (much like coffee), yet there is very little else in the way of processing bean-to-bar and therefore they maintain most of their health benefits. Now that you know what to look for, you can fuel your dark chocolate passion and feel good about it, too. Happy hunting!

(It’s fun to hunt out the very best. If you come to SF, you can even tour an artisanal chocolate factory in the Mission.)

Make a Pillow Out of Scraps

IMG_1562Pillows are probably the easiest tasks imaginable for the amateur sewer – following just a few simple steps: Give yourself a one-inch seam allowance. Put the two pieces of fabric together with front sides facing (inside out). Sew three sides, plus most of the fourth side with your sewing machine in no time flat. Then turn your square/rectangle right side out, stuff your stuffing through the hole and viola! – a pillow is born.

Make sure the hole is not too big. After it is completely stuffed (either with batting or pillow form), you will need to hand sew the rest of the way to close it up. Fold in that leftover inch on each side of the hole and try threading into the inseam so you can’t really see the stitch. It’s ok if it doesn’t look perfect; this can be the underside of the pillow.

I got inspired to make pillows when we moved back to San Francisco a couple of years ago. We bought new furniture for our apartment, but I couldn’t find the right pillows. The ones I loved in the design shops were out of range (I couldn’t bear to pay $200 for a throw pillow knowing that our cats might pee or puke on it at any moment).  In my household, they are often known as “throw out” pillows. Wah wah….Image 1

Even though pillows are easy, I’ve challenged myself with some out-of-the-ordinary designs and materials. I made this one the other day out of a faux fur neck scarf and a dress remnant. First I cut the neck scarf in half, then sewed the two parallel sides together by hand.  The jersey dress fabric (like thick t-shirt material) was super-easy to work with because it was already in a tube rectangular shape (picture a pillowcase open at both ends). So I only had to sew two sides on the machine.

I went ahead and stuffed it, closed it up, then sewed the furry front onto the jersey pillow (by hand). The furry stuff is great to work with because it hides imperfections easily. And now the pillow is reversible! ImagePurple with fur trim on one side, all fur on the other. I just love how it turned out.


Total time: less than 2 hours. Or give an old pillow a furry face lift in less than 30 minutes!

Will he love or destroy it?

Will he love it or destroy it?

Here are some other pillow ideas you might like:

Juice It and Reuse It

“Eeek, the CSA is coming any minute and I still have some stuff left from the last box!”

Here’s what you do:

Juice It!

Juice up a healthy drink (pictured here with celery, fennel, carrot, lemon, basil, beet). Make sure it’s enough balance of bitter and sweet. (This one was celery-heavy, but I knew the sweet beet would play counterpoint).

Now I just had an epiphany: why not make vegetable stock out of the leftover pulp from the juicer? This stuff:

The Pulp

Well, why not? So I threw it in a pot and covered with water. Brought to a boil, then set to simmer for 1 hour. So we’ve got some time to kill here.

Mind you, I realize this is going to be one red stock because of the beets. That might affect what kind of soup I make with it. I make a lot of soup with CSA box leftovers. My husband complains we have too much soup, but if it were up to him we’d be eating pizza every night. Besides, nothing is better than a good homemade soup. Except for that time I made the accidental lavender-hued batch….

Image 3I digress, let’s get back to the stock. 52 more minutes to go. If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just go back to my favorite bouillon cubes (The Organic Gourmet Vegetable Bouillon low sodium). Easy to store, and certainly faster than boiling down pulp. I get a small box of these at Whole Foods, but you can also buy them in bulk online.

Hey, while we wait, let me gush about my juicer. I love this little guy. It’s the only juicer I’ve ever had – but of course, I did tons of research before I bought it. This is the L’Equip Juicer Mini, which I probably bought about 5 yrs ago. I was once a juicing fiend, but now my juicing days seem to come and go in spurts. This strong, compact R2D2-kinda guy has never let me down.

I also have a favorite juicing book: The Juice Lady’s Guide to Juicing for Health by Cherie Calbom. Chock full of information about specific health benefits of all the fruits and veggies. And tantalizing recipes, such as The Ginger Hopper, Sweet Calcium Cocktail and Popeye’s Power. It is arranged alphabetically by condition, making it very easy to find a remedy for what ails you. Thanks, Juice Lady!

25 minutes left. Plenty of time to clean up my juicer. This can be a mess and a pain, but I have a couple of tricks to make it easier: such as a small plastic produce bag to line the pulp bucket and a fine-bristled brush designated to clean the mesh blade/basket. These two things save oodles of time.

The stewing chum is finally done! Now I’ll strain out the pulp by putting a colander over a big bowl. ImageYep, that’s some red-tinted stock! Hope it makes my next soup taste delicious. And just in time, here comes the CSA!

For more CSA stories, click here.

I Smell (not anymore)


I can’t believe it. My very first post is about BO. My BO, in fact…

Not a topic I usually discuss with strangers, but then I guess that’s why I started this blog. To share the behind-the-scenes stuff that we all deal with in our daily lives. Not that I’m saying you stink.

To set the mood, here’s one of my favorite songs about smelly things:

Let’s face it, bad body odor is the pits. Ha ha, very funny. But it’s true. I remember those distinctly embarrassing days where I forgot to put on deodorant, where I was sure I was offending everyone in sight with my rank underarm smell.

But those days are gone. And it’s the perfect first post for Alice and the Rabbit Hole, because I found the solution quite by accident while surfing online. I was researching the virtues of coconut oil – to use as a remedy for my cat’s scabby skin – when I stumbled upon several DIY deodorant sites using said coconut oil with a variety of other ingredients.

I’m not afraid to try home remedies. I’ve been doing it for years, with varying degrees of success. And I’ll have to admit I was skeptical about this one. I’d tried every natural deodorant in the store and always ended up disillusioned and odoriferous. I cannot prove that commercial (aluminum-based) deodorant is unhealthy, I just know that I never liked the stuff and have always sought an alternative.

Since puberty I’ve had stinky pits, and most of the commercial deodorants I tried did nothing to erase the stink. I could find only one brand/type that would keep the smell at bay, and even that didn’t work too well.

Here’s what I don’t like about the typical store-bought deodorants/antiperspirants: they only mask my smell with artificial scents and inhibit sweat; they leave yellow pit stains on my clothes that never come out; they irritate my sensitive armpits, especially after a shave. And the bottom line is, I find I’m still at least a little stinky by the end of each day.

So I jumped right in. Due to my sensitive skin, I chose a minimal list of ingredients: coconut oil, shea butter and baking soda. These were all things I had on hand. I eyeballed my first batch, not really paying close attention to measurements. More coconut oil than shea, a sprinkling of baking soda.

Lo and behold, no smell. No pits stains. No bad BO whatsoever, and it hasn’t come back, even when I skipped a day. Shaving no longer hurts (my left armpit used to be especially sensitive to a razor). I’m not having a problem with wetness either. BUT, so far this little miracle has had a downside….

My left armpit (you know, the Sensitive One) started turning dark after a couple of weeks. And then the right one joined in. No irritation, mind you, just a light shadow (kind of like a healing bruise of yellowish-brown hue). Not pretty. My husband said, “What is that?”  Dunno.

I researched all the threads I could find, and it turns out I’m not the only one with this reaction. I’d say maybe about a third of the posters were having some darkening issue and the corresponding bewilderment. The culprit seems to be baking soda (perhaps having something to do with pH levels in the body). Not one member of this Shadow Pit Clan had any intention of giving up. Neither do I.

It feels too good not to be stinky. To stick my nose right in my armpit and not smell a thing. It’s been 5 weeks now. I’ll keep tinkering with the de-stinkering and let you know what happens. I may try a batch with no baking soda, though I fear this is probably the most active ingredient. Some people have had great success with just the coconut oil. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try a smaller amount of baking soda.  If I still have the darkening issue, I’ll try a pH balancing spritzer of Apple Cider Vinegar and water before application (I’ve read this can solve the problem).

Image 10

3 simple ingredients and final product in a Go Toob container

For now, I’m content to stick with this second (carefully-measured) batch:

1.5 TBSP organic unrefined coconut oil
1 TBSP organic shea butter
.75 TBSP baking soda (mine is Whole Foods brand)

No melting it down in a pan for me – I took the lazy route and just mixed it all together in a small jar. You only need a pea-size amount per pit. A tiny amount, really. I put this batch into a small Go Toob to make it easier to store and travel with (still experimenting with this part, too). The other day I added a crushed up bay leaf. Smells even better. Maybe I’ll add some fresh lavender from the back patio garden. Oooh, yes! The adventure continues….

A note about the products I used (see photo): the L’Occitane Pure Shea Butter is fantastic – while the $42 price tag may seem steep, this 5.2 oz tin has lasted me a long, long time.  I like that it is so thick and has no smell.  The coconut oil pictured is from a local SF company, VitaminExpress; I have used several brands of organic coconut oil – Trader Joe’s has a good one for a great price. The baking soda is, well, just baking soda. Make sure your box contains no other ingredients. If you’re concerned about purity, I’ve heard that Bob’s Red Mill makes a good one.

Already using a homemade deodorant? I love to hear what ingredients have worked for you!


Update: I have made two more batches since this post (each lasting about 2 months). I decreased the baking soda to half a tablespoon. Less darkening than before, but it reappears occasionally (more so after shaving). Nonetheless, I’m still thrilled with my homemade deo!